Foldable iPhone with flexible screen and cover research resurfaces

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2021
A foldable iPhone or iPad from Apple could include a flexible casing, one that can keep the mobile device's screen and hardware protected while also coping with the rigors of opening and closing.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, a new model recently launched by the company featuring a flexible display.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, a new model recently launched by the company featuring a flexible display.


Major device producers like Samsung have created foldable smartphones, with the design challenge largely consisting of working out how the display can be made to flex without breaking over long periods of use. Along with the screen, companies also have to work out ways to house the device, with a chassis and cover that protects but still allows the crucial function of bending and straightening out to work.

In a patent granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday, a "Foldable cover and display for an electronic device" offers how such a smartphone could be created with a flexible display, as well as a cover that can permit the folding action to take place at designated locations.

For the filing, Apple suggests the use of flexible cover sheets and a flexible display layer within the same device, coupled to each other. The two layers are configured to be able to move between two different configurations when folded and unfolded, with the cover layer bending at specific points dubbed a "foldable region."

The cover layer's foldable region could be created using a ceramic material, such as glass, metal oxide ceramic, or other ceramic material. In some cases, the cover layer could consist of a continuous layer of ceramic material, providing an impact or scratch-resistant surface, though a second interior surface could also be used to attach to the display layer.

An example of how far Apple's patent concept could bend the cover and the display of a proposed device.
An example of how far Apple's patent concept could bend the cover and the display of a proposed device.


The continuous layer section could be treated to have a variable thickness, to enable it to fold at specific points. This may also include the addition of relief features on the interior or exterior side to allow the material to move, filled with a softer material to provide some support while still remaining malleable.

A similar relief feature could be added to the substrate of the display, enabling it to fold along specific lines. Again, to maintain strength, the use of a transparent filler could be added to the relief cutouts, but the material must have an "optical index that is index-matched to the substrate." In short, think of a glass substrate with relief sections filled with a clear plastic or silica.

The use of relief structures and filler is to deal with compressive stress, where a material is pressed down but has nowhere to move to due to the presence of other material, namely itself. The relief takes material away to leave spaces, which allows the material to move more freely without getting in its own way.

The use of panels within the device could also provide extra strength in areas that remain solid and inflexible, while leaving gaps in areas where the device will be able to fold. Again, filler material with more advantageous properties could be used between the strengthening support panels.

By using layers, this could end up with Apple producing a device cable of being bent both with the display on the inside of the fold and the outside, depending on how the relief structures are produced. In theory, this could turn into a multi-fold design, where a device could be folded with two bends, a zig-zag fold similar to a brochure.

An example of relief cut-outs that are filled with an alternative material, enabling flexing and compression.
An example of relief cut-outs that are filled with an alternative material, enabling flexing and compression.


The filing itself is not entirely new to Apple, as it is a refinement of an earlier patent of the same name. The previous patent was filed in 2018 and having the same list of inventors: Christopher D. Jones, Dale N. Memering, and Christopher C. Bartlow. There doesn't appear to be much in the way of differences between the earlier patent and the newer version, as they deal with the same general concepts and mechanics.

Apple files numerous patent applications on a weekly basis, but while the existence of a filing does not guarantee the concept will appear in a future product or service, it does indicate areas of interest for Apple's research and development efforts.

Apple has long been linked to the development of a folding display, including working with LG Display in October 2017 to create such a screen. There have also been patent filings by Apple that could allow the creation of wrap-around displays, and even foldable phones that could clip onto clothing.

As for the mechanics of a folding display, Apple has proposed mechanisms to ease the stress on flexible display sections, as well as a heating system to minimize damage by folding in cold temperatures.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 17
    spice-boyspice-boy Posts: 1,450member
    oh boy, the adults have left the space ship. 
    MisterKit
  • Reply 2 of 17
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,038member
    spice-boy said:
    oh boy, the adults have left the space ship. 
    No. This is a patent. This is nothing more than a patent and you shouldn't look at this as anything else. However, if you really think there are no longer any "adults" at Apple then your path forward seems clear. I, personally, can see a lot of application for a display that be contoured around and over severe curves.
    edited March 2020 pscooter63tmaydoozydozency_starkmanfastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 17
    BeatsBeats Posts: 3,073member
    spice-boy said:
    oh boy, the adults have left the space ship. 

    It's not gonna be anything like the reactionary crap the knockoffs Huawei and Samsung tried to make.
    gilly33watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 17
    geekmeegeekmee Posts: 633member
    Please remind me... What problem does a foldable phone solve again??
    Oh, rumor.
    spice-boywatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 17
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 10,557member
    spice-boy said:
    oh boy, the adults have left the space ship. 
    "Apple files numerous patent applications on a weekly basis, but while the existence of a filing does not guarantee the concept will appear in a future product or service, it does indicate areas of interest for Apple's research and development efforts. "

    It's near the end of the article if you care to read it.
    MisterKitdoozydozenfastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 17
    Eric_WVGGEric_WVGG Posts: 971member
    I'm looking forward to the iPhones in "slap bracelet" form-factor
    ravnorodomcy_starkmanwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 17
    MisterKitMisterKit Posts: 508member
    It is difficult for me to believe that the concept of a foldable mobile device will ever come to fruition. May the Engineers of the World prove me wrong.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 17
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,038member
    geekmee said:
    Oh, rumor.
    LOL I will be stealing that for future articles on rumors. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 17
    JinTechJinTech Posts: 1,042member
    Eric_WVGG said:
    I'm looking forward to the iPhones in "slap bracelet" form-factor

    cy_starkmanfastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 17
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,407member
    Preemptive patent. Nothing to see here.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 17
    spice-boyspice-boy Posts: 1,450member
    Soli said:
    spice-boy said:
    oh boy, the adults have left the space ship. 
    No. This is a patent. This is nothing more than a patent and you shouldn't look at this as anything else. However, if you really think there are no longer any "adults" at Apple then your path forward seems clear. I, personally, can see a lot of application for a display that be contoured around and over severe curves.
    Pray tell?
  • Reply 12 of 17
    spice-boyspice-boy Posts: 1,450member

    lkrupp said:
    spice-boy said:
    oh boy, the adults have left the space ship. 
    "Apple files numerous patent applications on a weekly basis, but while the existence of a filing does not guarantee the concept will appear in a future product or service, it does indicate areas of interest for Apple's research and development efforts. "

    It's near the end of the article if you care to read it.
    Some people here have ZERO sense of humor. Put down your Apple defender swords and shields and learn to take a joke. 
  • Reply 13 of 17
    bageljoeybageljoey Posts: 2,007member
    spice-boy said:

    Some people here have ZERO sense of humor. Put down your Apple defender swords and shields and learn to take a joke. 
    Well...you could try a funny joke. Those are easier to “take.”
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 17
    MisterKitMisterKit Posts: 508member
    This idea and patent is kind of like patenting toilet paper that just knows how to wad up and match your a**.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 17
    spice-boyspice-boy Posts: 1,450member
    bageljoey said:
    spice-boy said:

    Some people here have ZERO sense of humor. Put down your Apple defender swords and shields and learn to take a joke. 
    Well...you could try a funny joke. Those are easier to “take.”
    ok, two AppleInsider readers enter a bar.... get it?  they never leave their mom's basement...  
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 17
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 11,421member
    Mobile devices face and. since their inception, have faced two major conflicting demands:
    Phone (external) size vs Screen Size.

    Like auto engines of the 60's, if you wanted a faster car you just put in a bigger engine.
    And, phones today work the same:   If you want a bigger screen (which everybody does) then you buy a bigger phone.  Which is where the conflict comes in:   People want a bigger screen in a smaller phone.

    Today, the two are so closely linked we don't even have words to describe them both:   A "bigger phone" means a bigger screen.  The two are synonymous from a linguistic point of view.

    A foldable phone solves that conflict.
    It's not IF we will see a foldable iPhone.   It's when.

    But, Apple has been really dragging its feet on such upgrades:   For years it has refused to put a trackpad on the iPad's keyboard and likewise dragged its feet on OLED screens and 5G.   So, how long will they drag their feet before they produce a foldable phone?
    avon b7
  • Reply 17 of 17
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 7,887member
    Mobile devices face and. since their inception, have faced two major conflicting demands:
    Phone (external) size vs Screen Size.

    Like auto engines of the 60's, if you wanted a faster car you just put in a bigger engine.
    And, phones today work the same:   If you want a bigger screen (which everybody does) then you buy a bigger phone.  Which is where the conflict comes in:   People want a bigger screen in a smaller phone.

    Today, the two are so closely linked we don't even have words to describe them both:   A "bigger phone" means a bigger screen.  The two are synonymous from a linguistic point of view.

    A foldable phone solves that conflict.
    It's not IF we will see a foldable iPhone.   It's when.

    But, Apple has been really dragging its feet on such upgrades:   For years it has refused to put a trackpad on the iPad's keyboard and likewise dragged its feet on OLED screens and 5G.   So, how long will they drag their feet before they produce a foldable phone?
    That is a nice summary.

    I don't understand the criticism from some people who make folding phones sound like abominations. It should be clear to anyone what the advantages are from a conceptual viewpoint. Technical issues such as durability fall into a different category but lots of people love bigger screens. Having the best of both worlds is an obvious plus and as we are now on second folding phones there are plenty of opinions out there, based on real products, which highlight all the benefits and tackle many of the supposed issues that really aren't issues at all.


    GeorgeBMac
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